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Cat 5E and Cat 6 Differences and Benefits

Bandwidth precedes data rates just as highways come prior to traffic. Doubling the bandwidth is like adding two times the number of lanes on a highway. The trends of the past and the predictions for the future indicate that rates have been doubling every 18 months.

Current applications running at 1 Gb/s are really pushing the limits of category 5e cabling. As streaming media applications such as video and multi-media become common, the demands for faster data rates will increase and create new applications that will benefit from the higher bandwidth offered by category 6. This is exactly what happened in the early 90’s when the higher bandwidth of category 5 cabling compared to category 3 caused most LAN applications to choose the new media to allow simpler, cost effective, higher speed LAN applications, such as 100BASE-TX. Note: Bandwidth is defined as the highest frequency up to which positive power sum ACR (Attenuation to Crosstalk Ratio) is greater than zero.

The general difference between category 5e and category 6 is in the transmission performance, and extension of the allowed bandwidth from 100 MHz for category 5e to 200 MHz for category 6. This includes better insertion loss, near end crosstalk (NEXT), return loss, and equal level far end crosstalk (ELFEXT). Improvements, such as described, provide a higher signal-to-noise ratio, allowing greater reliability for current applications and higher data rates for future applications.

Category 6 will eventually supercede category 5e. Analyst predictions and independent polls indicate that 85 to 95 percent of new installations will be installed with category 6. The fact that category 6 link and channel requirements are backward compatible to category 5e makes it quite easy for customers to choose category 6 and supersede category 5e in their networks. Applications that worked over category 5e will still work over category 6.

Because of its greater transmission performance and better immunity from external noise, systems operating over 6 cabling will have fewer errors vs. category 5e for current applications. This means fewer re-transmissions of lost or corrupted data packets under certain conditions, which translates into higher reliability for category 6 networks compared to category 5e networks. Category 6 will be very effective in the residential market to support higher Internet access speeds while facilitating the more stringent Class B EMC requirements (see also the entire FCC Rules and Regulations, Title 47, Part 15). The better balance of category 6 will make it easier to meet the residential EMC requirements compared to category 5e cabling. Also, the growth of streaming media applications to the home will increase the need for higher data rates which are supported more easily and efficiently by category 6 cabling.